Hi, I’m Lisa and I am setting up this site as a journal to document the process of converting a minivan, specifically a 2012 Honda Odyssey, into a camper van and then to log my adventures. My goal is to have a camper van that will not only be good for weekend camping trips but also have the ability to sustain longer, much longer, road trips. The purpose of the van will be to explore and photograph North America. However, I will start in my home state of Florida.
This will also be the site where I will post and share my photography. Photography is my passion. Being able to travel around Florida and the USA taking photographs really excites me. My photography can also be seen at lisainstpete.com
About me: I was born in Jamaica and migrated to Florida with my family in 1980. I became a US citizen in 1997. I am married and have 2 children who are now in college. I have been told I am having a midlife crisis because I am selling my nice peppy Volvo to buy this minivan at a time when women my age are selling the van to buy the sporty car. But I feel ready for adventure.
I have not posted here for awhile because I have been busy…Chasing Dreams. Or you might call it making a bunch of stupid crazy decisions. I have resigned from my job effective June 15 and start a new job June 18. This represents a concrete step towards my goal of traveling the country, at least that is what I keep telling myself. After a week of orientation, I plan to take 2 weeks off so there will be a short break between the two.
I have to keep reminding myself of the reason for doing this, after all, I have (had) a great job as a nurse practitioner/midwife in a lovely office working 4 days a week which gave me 3 day weekends to go camping etc. The doctors and my coworkers and staff were all a cohesive group and I enjoyed going to work most days. My new job will be as a labor and delivery nurse and is actually the same job that I started my working career back when I was 21 yo and fresh out of college for the first time (30 years ago). Anyway, the reason that I am doing this is to regain L&D nursing experience so that I will be eligible to take up travel nursing.
I have decided that the only feasible way for me to travel at this time in my life and still be able to work is to do travel L&D nursing. The opportunities for traveling as a NP/CNM were just very limited and were not materializing for me. This decision has not been an easy one to make. There is going to be a significant financial hit at least for the next year and there is also a pretty big hit to the career path and ego. Fortunately, the family is supportive although I think sometimes they are trying to avoid me 🙂
I have been trolling the travel nursing blogs and websites and working on licenses etc in preparation. California in particular has been a challenge, so far I have sent them 2 sets of fingerprints and they still don’t seem to have them.
Of course, some new camera gear (filters) were found to be necessary to improve my landscape photography as in the foreseeable future I should be needing those more. Mother’s day in May and my birthday in a few weeks provided a good excuse to buy some new gear.
As Florida heats up for the summer, minivan camping trips become more challenging due to hot weather. The Kissimmee Prairie SP is a beautiful place that needs to be enjoyed in the cool of winter. It was a beautiful place but there was no shade on the trails (it being a prairie) and Milo and I ended up cutting our stay a little short because of that. But I get ahead of myself. Happily, there was shade at the campsite although I was not there to enjoy it.
The scenery was impressive with vast open spaces (the park is 54,000 acres) and lots of hiking trails. I carried several lenses with me as I did not know if I would see wildlife, scenery or wildflowers and I was glad to have it all. Unfortunately, that made my pack so heavy, I decided unwisely to not carry as much water. I know, it was stupid. Especially when I made a wrong turn and made the hike that much longer. A mistake probably fueled by mild dehydration as I gave Milo quite a bit of the water.
There were lots of wildflowers.
I really liked this shot so it got its own space, 🙂
Not much in the way of wildlife to be seen in the afternoon heat.
I tried some new photo techniques with varying degrees of success. The process is called focus stacking and it requires a tripod to be successful. The idea is to have the photo in good focus front to back and requires several images that are exactly the same except for point of focus and them combining them in photoshop. I lugged the tripod with me causing some entertainment for the camp neighbors when the tripod, being top heavy, caused the entire pack to open up and spill all my equipment, camera, lenses, everything onto the ground. ..right in front of them. I had to go back and repack, using a bungee to secure the tripod to the top handle. As I was hiking, I would think, I need to use the tripod for this, but I did not because it was so much work to get it secured. So, all that for nothing but extra weight to carry at the detriment of not enough water.
I made it back to camp at sunset. No clouds this evening but the sky was still pretty.
The night was uneventful, I had cold leftovers from the night before (curry chicken and cauli-rice) and wine. I tried to read but could not focus on starting a new book loaded onto the Kindle. As is common with the state parks here in Florida, the sites are too close and there is no site privacy. My neighbors to one side were plentiful and loud and the mom must have been a schoolteacher because her voice could probably be heard across the prairie as she recited boy scout code. I briefly considered playing some loud Eminem rap but they probably would not have gotten the point and I would just really come off as the “bad guy”, Fun thought though, I settled for Sade, quietly.
Hiking Sunday morning was much cooler starting out and I got some nice shots of the Eastern Meadowlark singing. I got a not so great shot of a crested caracara which was nice.
There were also several deer. I was in a different area that had recently undergone a controlled burn and the colors were stark and beautiful. The wildlife was also more visible than usual as seen in the deer shot. It was trying to hide!The green growth re emerging against the rust and browns added to the beauty of the scene.
This shade at the trail head was the only shade but this time I packed the water bladder and we did not suffer. Milo swam and drank from a few puddles halfway through which helped him a bit. I also packed the monopod instead of the tripod and this was a good compromise. Milo and I had to walk by a 7 ft alligator on the path so I put him on a close leash and put me between him and the gator which happily worked. Milo is 26 # so probably would be in the size range for a good sized gator. We were probably about 12 ft. from the gator which was awake and alert. I did not linger long in that area and kept Milo on leash for the entire hike.
I liked the illusion here where you can barely see the white shell road so the sign looks incongruent.
I was back at the trail head approximately 1 pm and the original plan was to rest, eat lunch and do another shorter hike before leaving. By that time it was about 87 degrees with no shade on the trail so I decided to head home 3 hrs away. I think I would be fine with enough water but I worried about Milo getting dehydrated out there. He was a trooper and did not complain. He drank regularly and was able to cool off in the puddle. Needless to say, he slept all the way home.
Things to remember:\
Mono-pod rather than tripod.
Don’t underestimate water needs
Need more shots in focus stacking sequence for best results.
Some photos from recent solo camping trip to Gold Branch SP.
I was tired from the work week and a bit unmotivated to pack up and leave on Saturday. After several delays, I finally set off about 11:30 for the 3 hr drive North. Well, apparently the 1st weekend in April is when many of the snowbirds head North as well and my drive was complicated by heavy traffic making it take 4.5 hrs. By the time I got to my site, I was ready to get out and move. Milo and I headed out for our first hike. Immediately I felt the decompression begin and I realize, Yes, this is worth it.
A section of the Florida Trail which runs from the Everglades to Georgia runs through the park.
This state park is known for its ravines with spring fed streams leading into several lakes. The water is crystal clear and cold.
Names:Virginia Thistle, Dragon wood, Virginia Thistle
I brought my macro lens this time and captured some spring wild flowers. I am clueless about the names but have just downloaded an app to aid me with identification. How nice to have info so freely available.
Then back to the campground which where I have the worst spot possible. I console myself with the knowledge that I actually spend very little time at the site. The site is crowded and loud with no site privacy. There are other nice sites available but my lack of fore-planning got me the very last spot. I rehydrated my chile and sweet potato and relax by the light of my candle, read and went to bed.
Sunday was overcast but no rain thankfully. The sun peeked out a few times. Milo and I walked a lot. As usual, when I got away from the campground, I also found solitude. I was surprised at how few birds I saw. This looked like great marshy habitat and I could sometimes hear the birds but they were not to be seen ( and definitely not photographed by me).
I took pictures of wildflowers instead. Really happy about having the macro lens.
Back at the campground, everyone has cleared out and I have it almost to myself. I love having Mondays off work so I can stay Sunday nights. With someone’s leftover wood, I made a lovely campfire.
Finally, a few birds. I got going before coffee and got a great blue heron with a huge fish and an American bittern. Then I went back to my van and make coffee and breakfast.
Making coffee takes a minute to boil the water and brew using the french press. There is no rushing this process.
Then I pack up to leave. Unfortunately, yesterday while I was out and about, someone took off with my camp chair and cook pot that I was using to give Milo water. I admit the site looked abandoned with no tent and no van… but still, the chair was cheap but my cook pot was part of a nice set.
My friend Kit called me as I was driving around scoping out more ideal campsites and we met up in the park for a short visit. She lives and was camping nearby so we got to compare van camping notes and the pups got to visit.
Thankfully, the ride home was the expected 3 hrs ish with no traffic pileups.
I was happy as always, that I went camping even though at the beginning of the weekend I was unmotivated. Even though I did not see as many birds as I thought, I was happy to play with my macro lens for the wildflowers. I had a lot to ponder and getting away helped me to process my thoughts. It was nice to check out Kits Odyssey and meet her sister.
This past weekend’s journey took me almost 3 hrs drive north to O’leno State Park in High Springs Florida. The weather was unseasonably warm, mid 80’s in the day and mid 60s at night. Because the trees hadn’t leafed out fully yet, it grew a bit warm mid day. We rigged a tarp for shade which did the trick.
This park is known for the disappearance of the Santa Fe River underground for 3 miles before returning to the surface. This created a land bridge That has been used by many over time.
This is the view from the suspension bridge.
This suspension bridge was built by the civilian conservation Corps (CCC) that was established as a part of the new deal in the post depression years. Click on below link for interesting info on the CCC. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1586.html
This structure also built by the CCC in the remains of the town of Leno.
The dogwood trees were in full bloom.
These beautiful trees do not bloom here in west-central Florida where I live, but just a few hours north they are plentiful and they remind me of my college days in Gainesville.
We went on some nice hikes where we all picked up a few ticks. I will definitely have to be more diligent about applying DEET which I had in the van but forgot to apply. The ticks were discovered when I went to bed and felt something crawling. Inspection revealed it to be a tick. Poor Milo got roused from his sleep and a full inspection of him uncovered 7 ticks. Gross. Every time I think about it I start itching again.
There is a short 1.5 mile hike that takes you around the river and over the land bridge so that you start the hike on one side of the river and end it on the other. The suspension bridge returns you to the other side.
This is where the Santa Fe River re-emerges from underground in a neighboring park called River Rise State Park.
That area of disturbance in the water is where the water is bubbling up from underground.
The campsites were nice but crowded a bit too close to each other. My friend Kitty and I provided the evening entertainment for the neighbors who watched us camp cooking.
I tried something new this time. I microwaved sweet potatoes and cut them into slices before leaving home. Then I quickly sautéed them in some olive oil on my camp stove. They were delicious along with hamburger and salad.
There are definitely some differences when I camp with Kitty. The companionship is nice, I am more likely to cook and have a campfire which are nice things I usually don’t bother with when I am by myself. Alone,I would just have cold leftovers or re-hydrate food and set out my candle for fire. I usually also focus more on hiking and my photography. It is a good balance.
There were a lot of beautiful wildflowers but I had not brought my macro lens. I will not make that mistake again. What’s a few more pounds of camera gear in the backpack.:)
Things I learned this trip
Tick repellant a must
Bring macro lens
Screens worked well, need more magnets
Shade tarp worked but need some small hurricane anchors for tie down
Pre prepped sweet potato was delicious and easy and did not use much gas.
Tick bites itch
Camping with a friend and camping solo are vastly different but both good.
The forecast called for overcast skies and rain but optimistically I set out for last weekend’s camping trip. This was a free site reserved through the Florida Southwest Water Management District and was the 2nd of such free camping spots that I visited.
This was also the first time that I have arranged to meet a camping buddy. Through Facebook (of course) I have reconnected with a college friend from back in the 1980s and we discovered a mutual interest in van camping. She is still in the process of setting up her vehicle, a Honda CRV, and plans to go for a 6+month sojourn in the summer. I am so jealous!!
Overall I was impressed with the site. It was small with space only for 5-6 campers. It was very primitive with only a port-o-let toilet that had not been emptied for quite sometime. I would definitely prefer to use the facility in my van or out in nature.
There was plenty of wood to collect for a nice evening fire.
After some exploring, we found Cypress Creek.
We decided to cut our camping trip short when it started to rain at noon on Sunday and looked as though that would continue all day. I realize that if I were van living for real, there would be rainy days where I might be stuck in the van or outside in the rain at times, but- I’m not there yet. It was super bowl Sunday and my husband was going to be out of town the next week and, and, and… lots of excuses. So we packed up and left early.
Milo did pick up 2 ticks while here- the dangers of being a camping dog. I do need to take him to the vet and make sure he is up to date on all his shots.
This trip, I tried out the Gas one burner and was very happy with the ease of use. The case doubled as a wind break. Most of the time I use the small MSR canister stove for reheating food and boiling water for coffee.
I found that I am still having a difficult time getting a good nights sleep. The van bed was fairly comfortable with a 4 inch memory foam mattress on plywood but I think I will add a layer of dense foam underneath that. Milo tended to be a bit restless as well and wondered around in the van. Every time I dozed off, he would snap at a mosquito that snuck in. The Dometic cooler also made a noise turning on and off and so by the time morning came, I was happy to give up and make coffee.
What I learned:
I’ll need to sort out mosquito netting soon as it is warming up and they will soon be out in force. I have the supplies but haven’t had the need yet.
It’s ok to throw in the towel and go home if it rains- while I still can.
It’s nice to have company sometimes- we do have another trip planned in a few weeks.
A good night’s sleep is a wonderful thing. I do have benadryl but hate to resort to meds. Maybe no coffee after noon even though I do love my afternoon cup.
No camping trip this past weekend. Had to stay home and catch up with home and family stuff after being gone for the past 2 weekends. And the house needed attention too. But I made it to Circle B Bar Reserve which was a bout 60 miles away for a beautiful day trip. The rainy cold front passed about midday about the time that I arrived and I had a great day wondering around taking pictures. This reserve had the most variety of bird life that I had seen for awhile-maybe ever.
Red Shouldered hawk in the late afternoon light.
In Florida, fall colors occur in January and subtle changes beg to be appreciated.
Roseate Spoonbills were hanging out and preening
and the anhinga was showing off it’s beautiful blue eye shadow.
These gorgeous sandhill cranes were casually walking along the pathway foraging
and this anhinga tried to swallow this fish for many minutes.
Bird life was abundant.
The cypress trees grow right in the middle of Lake Hancock
Last but not least, A feral pig and piglets. There were 4 today. I was tole there were 7 previously. Nature will take its course.
All in all a great day trip.
Listened to Eminem on the way home. Watched the movie “8 mile” with my son recently and this fueled my curiosity on Eminem’s music. My son kindly loaded some of his music on my playlist. Eminem is one talented and angry fellow…does Not qualify as easy listening especially if profanity offends you. The juxtapostion of the beautiful tranquil day in nature and Eminem’s music defied description but seemed to be oddly appropriate for me at this wierd stage of mid-life.
My take on the day: I will definitely be returning to this wonderful place
This is a catch up post from the weekend of Jan 14th after the holiday season.
Due to family and holiday obligations, I did not go camping in December so when January came around, Florida cold or not, I loaded up Hinby to go camping. The destination this time was Dupuis management area which is part of the water management district free public use area. There was a family campground which was full and an equestrian area which is where I camped. There were no demarcated campsites so I found a spot in the sun and parked. You are supposed to put the registration form on the dash and I did. Even though camping is free you do have to register and apparently they are quite strict on this because at 7:10 am on Sunday morning , I was rudely awakened by a sharp rap on the window causing Milo to erupt into a frenzy of barking. This was the campground host demanding if I had registered. I said yes and he brusquely asked to see the papers. I reached over and grabbed it off the dash and showed it to him. After intently studying it for a while, he wordlessly handed it back to me and walked off.
Later in the morning after coffee, Milo and I decided to go for a hike. The trail head was a short drive away but as I let myself out of the gated campground area, a strong gust of wind blew the gate into the side of the van causing a scratch and dent on the sliding passenger door… and breaking one of the gates hinges. A bit unhinged myself, I continued through and drove off and started on the trail. I didn’t get very far before my highly tuned imagination started conjuring all kind of bad scenarios where I got caught and fined for destruction of public property and so my sense of guilt made me hike back to the van, drive back to the campground to find the host and confess. After looking at me a bit strangely, he said don’t worry he would fix the gate and I moved on with a clear conscience. The ranger he was talking to politely suggested that next time I should secure the gate before driving through- Yeah- I think I figured that one out the hard way.
This was the 2nd big scratch that I have collected so far in my short minivan camping history. The other being on the front bumper when I drove into the campsite post on the 1st trip. That is not a good trend. Ron said I am collecting souvenirs and soon I will be able to walk around Hinby and point to scratches and relate stories. I can’t help but think they are like scars on our bodies telling their tales.
Florida hiking is beautiful at this time of year. It is probably beautiful in the summer also-but it would be difficult to appreciate with the heat and mosquitoes. For this reason I plan to go as often as I can during the Florida winter.
This is the first camping trip with Milo. As you can see he was very enthusiastic and very well behaved with the only barking being at the 7 am wake up window knock by the campground host.
There was an equestrian event that same weekend and watching the horses and their owners play added to the fun. I was worried Milo would bark at the horses but that was not so. At one point, we stopped at the side of the path to let the horse go by. Milo was so scared at the close encounter that he backed out of his leash altogether. He did not make a peep.
I did talk to the host on another occasion and he was quite friendly- no mention at all of the rude wake up knock. I suspect he could not see my form on the dash due to condensation and thought that I had snuck in illegally.
What I learned this trip:
Secure any gates before driving through.
Milo was great company and very well behaved
This free water management district (WMD) area was a great and well maintained site.
The WMD folks take their registration rule very seriously- probably so they don’t have folks overstaying. There is a limit on how many days per yr one can camp.
Scratches and dents are just that. Maybe after I figure out how to camp without denting Hinby, I can get a paint job.